Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Shaking loose writer's block

Yesterday I wrote about Natalie Goldberg's book Wild Mind: Living the Writer's Life.

In 1996, I was influenced by another book, one that helped me get out of writer's block. Georgelle Hirliman had writer's block in the 80s, so she installed herself in the window of a bookstore and invited people to ask her questions. She had a typewriter on which she wrote answers. 

I loved the idea and decided to combine it with Wild Mind writing. I went to my favorite coffee shop and set up a whiteboard (with permission of the owners), inviting topics. I promised to write nonstop for five minutes on any topic at all. I was honor-bound to accept all suggestions. I wrote the rules for writing practice on the whiteboard. I did this one evening a month for about a year. Sometimes friends would write with me. I kept a carbon copy of each of my pieces and gave the original to the person who gave the topic. Sometimes I got tips. Usually I got a free coffee. 

Here are a few of the pieces:

Gymnastics floor routine

Okay, here's my first routine: three baboon lopes, a leopard roar and a snake slither, two monkey leaps forward then a chimpersault backwards. A dogrun to the left, catpaw tiptoe to the right. Wave to the crowds, bow, accept the flowers thrown by the loyal fans. What? The judges need to see it again? Oh, no! What did I do?

            I think it was two coiled springs backward, one mattress spring forward, a quadruple spring day with no April showers to the, that wasn't it. I think I started with a guitar strum in the key of Z, then eased my way up to an organ chord with trumpets and piccolo. Or was it the rotini, double twist cappuccino, basil pesto on my toes, back flapjack, quarter pounder, two all beef patties, one taco grande and then for the finale, baked Alaska? Rats! I wish I could remember the way this floor routine was supposed to go.

Apologies to my mother for this one:

There goes the neighborhood

Yup, it all went downhill when the Howes moved in. That house was beautiful, with its wall in front, the white pebbled path, the pillars. But now there are always kids around, their bikes thrown down in the driveway, their runny noses and skinned knees offending our senses. It would be different if they had some money, but they don't. The noise, too, oh my Lord, the constant bickering of the younger children pierces a hole right through my brain sometimes. The white pebbled path has clumps of dirt in it from the last time the children had friends over. They had a war in the front yard with the wild onions. I don't imagine their mother was happy about that, though who knows, there never seem to be any parents around. If there were, they would put a stop to that nasty little pet cemetery the children put next to the church wall. It doesn't even have pets—just dead pigeons and squirrels. And I do wish the children had never learned to play the church bells, which they do at the oddest times.

A nod of respect to B. Kliban's cartoons here:

Those aren't raisins!     

Children love petting zoos, especially those with deer in pens. Every summer Mac worked the zoo, explaining to the children how deer really lived in the wild, what they ate, how they survived the winter. He'd make sure the children didn't throw their hotdog buns into the pen, make sure the deer always had water, pass out handfuls of grain pellets for the kids to feed the animals.

            He didn't really like his job, but he liked the deer and it was an easy way to spend the summer, standing around outside. He'd have to clean out the pens, sure, but that wasn't such hard work. Mac always left a some deer droppings near the edge of the pen, for sheer entertainment value. He kept a tally of the number of times a day he heard it, usually coming from a parent but occasionally from an older sister or brother or friend. "Get that out of your mouth! Those aren't raisins!" It was almost always too late.  

It worked. I was able to shake loose my creativity by doing this. I may try it again someday.

1 comment:

Sean said...

Lookie there, there is one of them famous timers we have spoken of many times.